Adrian Lister, Natural History Museum
Mammoths had been in Eurasia 3-3.5 million years ago. Wooly mammoth arose in Siberia 700,000 years ago, and survived around 8 major glacial-interglacials cycles until the last one. How did they respond to the last interglacial and why did they die out this time?
He has conducted an examination of megafaunal extinction chronology in Northern Eurasia (mammoths, rhinos etc), using Radio carbon dating of lots of fossils. Latest know mammoth in western Europe is in Condover, UK, around 14,000 years ago. In its heyday around 35-39,000 pears ago the mammoth extended from Britain to North America.. Just before the Last Glacial Maximum, LGM (21-23,000 years ago) still a wide range, Between 19,500 and 21,5000 complete lack of mammoth remains in western Europe, corresponding to maximum extent of glacial ice sheet. After the LGM (14.6-18 kyr) the mammoth spreads back into its former range. Then there was a warming Bolling interstadial (14.6-13.9 kyr), followed by cooling of the Younger Dryas. Mammoth range not affected. Followed by cooling of the Allerod (defined as when the forests get back into Europe after the warming), when the mammoths contract out of their range and disappear western Europe. So the mammoths are responding to the vegetation (tree cover and loss of grassland), not to temperature. They are still in eastern Siberia, where the spread of forest was much slower. In the Younger Dryas cold spell (12.8-11.7 kyr) there was a partial re-expansion of mammoth range into northern Europe. The last strongholds were fragmented, relict populations (refugia).
Last mammoth record on mainland at 11,700 BP. On St Paul and Wrangel islands last mammoths disappeared at 6500 BP and 4000 BP.
The suggestion is that climate warning caused contraction of mammoth range into small refugia. Normally they would have re-expanded again under favourable conditions, but human hunting may have provided an additional stress factor that tipped them into extinction. Other hypotheses around e.g. comet impact or disease seem implausible (why only this interglacial?)
Evidence for humans in Europe. 32.0-14 kyr largely to the south of mammoth range. People were largely eating horses, deer and cattle. Om Wrangel island the earliest human signs is 400 years after extinction of mammoths, although it is always possible that new evidence will cause these dates to overlap.
Mammoths have been in Eurasia 3-3.5 million years ago. Wooly mammoth arose in Siberia 700,000 years ago, and survived around 8 major glacial-interglacials cycles until the last one. How did they respond to the last interglacial and why did they die out this time?